In Search of a Storied Past

mia_Rotarian_FamilyHistoryXX_0New column from The Rotarian:

My dad and I were on our way south, moving through rolling farmland. The sun was bright and the fields were green. It felt as though we were in a Grant Wood painting, caught between the smallness of our lives and the grandness of the sky. High above, stark white clouds cast shadows on the highway.

“Are we in Iowa yet?” I asked.

“We’ve been in Iowa for quite a while,” he responded.

“Do you want me to look at the map?”

“If you want to.”

We were also headed back in time, on a rescue mission of sorts. With me I had an audio recorder and a bunch of questions. For several years, I had been researching and writing about stories – about the way we use them to stitch ourselves together with the world around us. But I didn’t have a full picture of my own family’s story. I was sure I could find more pieces that would help me trace the links in the chain leading from my life into the past.

I had come across some fascinating studies on family stories and the power they have over us. In recent years, researchers have noted that children in families that eat dinner together often have better emotional health and are happier and more resilient than their peers. This has less to do with eating together than it does with the fact that family dinners provide space for stories to emerge. And knowing your family stories can make a real difference in your life.

Read the rest here.

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Designing the Future with Blu Dot

Maurice BlanksFrom the new issue of Alive:

Sitting in his Chicago office in spring 2001, Maurice Blanks took a call from a Los Angeles-based telephone number. It was from the producer of a new design show, “Area,” looking for a host. Not long before, the producers at the Style Network had interviewed Blanks about a company he’d started with some college friends called Blu Dot Design—which made simple, modernist chairs, tables and other furniture.

Blanks, the network thought, would be the perfect host: tall, photogenic, articulate and with a mind steeped in design history and theory. But he had also recently started his own architecture firm while still working part-time for Blu Dot, traveling to Minneapolis on weekends. He had to make a choice.

“I said to my wife, ‘It’ll be fun. I’ll go to L.A. for two or three days, and nothing will come of it,’” he recalls. “Then I got offered the deal.” Blanks wound down his architecture firm, and they headed west.

“Area” was a virtual magazine, with recurring segments on “aspirational house tours,” practical design solutions and product reviews. They filmed a full season, and Blanks felt good about it. It did what they wanted Blu Dot to do: get good design out in the world.

But times were changing. America was changing. And it did not want to watch a program at the heart of this kind of “lifestyles-of-the-smart-and-stylish” ethos.

Read the rest here.

The China Mystery Illness and the Power of Stories

4d9c7547g94283a8859d8&690From Undark Magazine: To Believe is to Feel: When a Mysterious Epidemic Isn’t So Mysterious

When U.S. diplomats in the Chinese city of Guangzhou recently started reporting strange, inexplicable symptoms of unknown origin — and which seemed to be spreading among State Department employees — I was reminded of a similar “mystery illness” that I spent some time researching a few hours south of Guangzhou, in a village called Fuhu.

One afternoon in May of 2004, a third-grade boy at a local school in Fuhu reported feeling that his genitals were shrinking. He panicked, ran home, and his parents fetched the local healer — an 80-year-old woman who had seen this sort of thing before: In 1963, she said, around the time of the Great Leap Forward, an “evil wind” had blown through the village and many people were struck by this illness known as “suo-yang.” She treated the boy by traditional means and he recovered quickly.

Two days later when the school principal learned of the incident, he gathered all 680 students in the school courtyard and, according to a report by Dr. Li Jie of the Guangzhou Psychiatric Hospital, “explained to the students in detail what had happened, and warned them to be cautious, and to take emergency measures if they experienced similar symptoms.”

Read the rest here.

Winona’s Last War

img_2018-04_WinonLaDuke_Opener_TJTurner_GFor this story, I got to spend some time with Winona LaDuke, who took me around White Earth Reservation to see some of her many projects: coffee roaster, business incubator, solar thermal panel manufacturer, radio station, local food vendor, etc, etc. It was a whirlwind tour that barely even covered her biggest project, which is running Honor the Earth and its battle against the Line 3 Pipeline, which Enbridge wants to build across the state. Depending on what the Public Utility Commission rules this spring, here’s preview of what may be the next Standing Rock:

Winona LaDuke is in a hurry. The activist, writer, and former vice-presidential candidate stands in a grocery store’s produce aisle in Detroit Lakes, her hands briefly resting on her shopping cart as she silently runs through the list of things she needs. Even that is time lost. A busy spring of organizing lies ahead.

LaDuke’s environmental justice organization, Honor the Earth, is locked in an intense battle with Enbridge, a Canadian energy company, over a proposed oil pipeline project slated to run through northern Minnesota, part of what The New York Times calls a “historic moment” in Native American political activism across the country. As Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin said this January, “Over the past year and a half, something has happened…As a band, we are awake.”

Read the rest here.

img_2018-04_WinonLaDuke_TJTurner_G

Geography of Madness: Spanish Edition

GOMespThe Geography of Madness is now available in Spanish:

Geografía de la locura: En busca del pene perdido y otros delirios colectivos (Ensayo General)

Una desternillante exploración de las extravagancias y los desvaríos colectivos: ¿Por qué ciertos individuos creen que unos vándalos roban sus penes o que tienen lagartos bajo la piel? ¿Cuál es el origen del vudú? ¿Existe el latah, ese curioso estado que provoca bailes frenéticos y movimientos espasmódicos? Frank Bures ha viajado por todo el mundo para rastrear los síndromes más estrambóticos ligados a la cultura y contar luego deliciosas historias sobre esas extrañezas. Se confirma una vez más que el hombre es un animal muy raro.

Read the rest here.

Where to Eat Somali Food in Minneapolis

Qoraxlow_11RBG-e1517608934558New story at Roads & Kingdoms, featuring beautiful photos from Priscilla Briggs.

A few months before I moved to Minneapolis, I stopped at a gas station while visiting the city looking for a place to eat. The cashier and two customers—all of whom were Somali—conferred for a minute, then pointed me up the street to a building that didn’t look much like a restaurant. The windows were dark and the façade was strange, but high on the roof was a sign that read: Qoraxlow Restaurant #1 African and American Cuisine.

I walked inside. The place was run down: a giant TV played CNN, there were no menus, and the credit-card machine was broken. But once the door closed, the sound of talking and laughing, and the smell of rice and goat meat, brought me straight back to East Africa. I’ve never tired of eating at Qoraxlow since.

That was nearly a decade ago. Somalis had started landing in Minneapolis in force a few years earlier. After the Somali civil war started in 1991, people came to Minnesota to work in meat-packing jobs in the western part of the state. By 2010, according to Ahmed Ismail Yusuf, author of Somalis in Minnesota, their numbers had grown to somewhere between 36,000 (the U.S. census number) and 70,000 (the community’s estimate). Before long, you could find places like Qoraxlow across Minneapolis. For someone like myself, with young kids and little extra money for the kind of globetrotting I did when I was younger, these places felt like an escape. Sometimes I would meet old Somali men who spoke Italian and young ones who spoke Swahili. I could eat sambusas and drink chai and feel refreshingly far from home.

Read the rest here.

The Sound of Silence

c87f36d1-9a1e-4052-a68c-aa3806ad8a6c-1New story at Slate on Cuba’s Sonic Attacks:

A few weeks after the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump, several people working for the U.S. Embassy in Cuba fell mysteriously ill. Some lost their hearing. Some had headaches and a pain in one ear. Others reported feeling dizzy or nauseous, having trouble focusing, or feeling fatigued. Later, some would have a hard time concentrating, remembering things, sleeping, and even walking.

These symptoms were “medically confirmed,” as the State Department’s medical director Charles Rosenfarb put it, and brain scans were said to show abnormalities in the victims’ white matter, which transfers information between brain regions. The illnesses were believed by the government to be “health attacks,” carried out by a foreign power, though as Todd Brown, assistant director at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “investigative attempts and expert analysis failed to identify the cause or perpetrator.”

Nonetheless, investigators concluded the illnesses, which ultimately affected 24 people, were likely the result of a “sonic device.” This conclusion seems to be primarily due to the fact that some diplomats reported hearing a high-pitched noise in their homes and hotel rooms.

Despite a lack evidence for such a weapon, or any known way it could affect white matter, the sonic weapon theory proved irresistible for both media outlets and for Cuba hawks like Sens. Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez, both of whom immediately transformed the sonic weapon into a handy political weapon.

Read the rest here.